Guidebook

The Ultimate New Mexico Road Trip

Lace up your shoes, fill your day pack, or keep the rubber side down with this ultimate north-to-south road trip through the Land of Enchantment.

Brendon Voelker

Description

New Mexico, affectionately known as the Land of Enchantment, has it all: world-class mountain biking, epic backcountry trail running, stunning summit hikes, iconic ski lines, and everything in between. From north to south, this guidebook highlights an epic multi-sport road trip through the state, beginning near Santa Fe and ending with the Franklin Mountains just north of El Paso, Texas. While there are plenty of outdoor destinations and noteworthy trails that did not make this list, we’ve included multiple activities for each destination, as well as roadside stops worth factoring into your plans. If you are traveling east-to west (or vice-versa) on Interstate 40 or 10, you could pick up this itinerary at any point and continue between destinations.

Starting things off in Santa Fe, the Winsor Trail is the single must-do mountain bike ride around town, and even accessible via shuttle thanks to the town’s public transit system. The Dale Ball Loop also offers a tour of Santa Fe’s marquee trail system, and an option that trail runners will also enjoy. Hikers will want to eye the Atalaya Mountain Loop near town, which reaches the nearly 9,100-foot summit with expansive views of the area.

Heading south into the greater Albuquerque area, trail run or hike the rugged Whitewash Loop, or explore the La Luz Trail, which offers access to the stunning and scenic Sandia Crest. With clever planning, you could even plan a point-to-point run thanks to the Sandia Peak Tramway. Of course, if you’d rather spend some time in the saddle, the North Foothills, Placitas, and the famous White Ridge Trail near White Mesa all offer spectacular two-wheeled options with something for everyone.

Between 2 and 3 hours south of Albuquerque, Socorro is a quaint college and mining town noted by most travelers for its Wal-Mart along Interstate 25. Though the town’s economy no longer thrives as it did during the 1800s mining boom, the quiet Magdalena Mountains tower ominously over the city’s western horizon. If you love riding technical, downhill singletrack with high exposure, then Copper Canyon is for you. Trail runners will also enjoy this version of the route, while hikers will enjoy the sunset from the nearby Mesa Trail. This area is best explored between March and October, utilizing the free Water Canyon Campground facilities as a hub.

From there, the route takes a detour east from the interstate bound for the Valley of Fires near Carrizozo. Managed by the BLM, this recreation area hosts a short boardwalk hike along the Malpais Nature Trail and is loaded with stunning views, unique flora, and waysides along the trail that speak of the region’s significance as both a geological and ecological hotspot.

Heading south, one could argue that a side trip to Ruidoso is a must-do, though it's a little less frequented since it has a limited season to hike or run due to snow. That said, no New Mexico road trip would be complete without a stop at the iconic White Sands National Park. This guidebook highlights the park’s 5 established hiking trails as they tour the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, and the Backcountry Camping Trail offers an easy hike to a large dunefield where you could pitch a tent under the stars. Those short on time should consider the Interdune Boardwalk or Playa Trail Overlook, both being under a mile in length.

There are two ways to end this trip: with a stop at the Tortugas Mountains on your way to the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, or with a more eastward journey to the Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Combined, both destinations warrant an entire trip of their own, though they are often paired together thanks to their proximity. Guadalupe is also home to the “Top of Texas” with its nearly 8,700-foot high ceiling, while Carlsbad Canyons hosts an extensive network of caverns tucked deep under the Chihuahuan desert landscape.

Sources:
White Dot Adventures | Trail Running Tours

Winsor Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Winsor Trail

15.3 km
86 m
1,072 m
The Winsor Trail is a mostly non-technical downhill romp into Santa Fe.
Moderate
Private
Dale Ball Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Dale Ball Loop

16.1 km
454 m
454 m
The long outer loop through Santa Fe's marquee trail system.
Difficult
Private
Dale Ball Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Dale Ball Loop

16.1 km
454 m
454 m
The long outer loop through Santa Fe's marquee trail system.
Moderate
Private
Atalaya Mountain Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Atalaya Mountain Loop

2 - 3 hrs
10.7 km
553 m
553 m
Summit hike starting close to town with incredible views!
Moderate
Private
Whitewash Loop and South Sandia Peak
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Whitewash Loop and South Sandia Peak

20.1 km
1,228 m
1,228 m
An epic trail run into the southern portion of the Sandia Mountain Wilderness.
Severe
Private
Whitewash Loop and South Sandia Peak
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Whitewash Loop and South Sandia Peak

6 - 7 hrs
20.1 km
1,228 m
1,228 m
A challenging loop into the southern portion of the Sandia Mountain Wilderness.
Severe
Private
North Foothills / Elena Gallegos Open Space
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

North Foothills / Elena Gallegos Open Space

15.3 km
326 m
326 m
Albuquerque's town trails deliver beautiful views and entertaining singletrack.
Difficult
Private
Placitas Trail System Figure-8
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Placitas Trail System Figure-8

12.9 km
339 m
339 m
Flowy desert riding on non-technical trails—a great place for beginners, or those looking to advance their skills slightly.
Moderate
Private
White Ridge Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

White Ridge Trail

12.8 km
316 m
316 m
A serpentine network of rocky outcrops, smooth singletrack, and exotic colors.
Difficult
Private
La Luz Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

La Luz Trail

7 - 8 hrs
23.6 km
1,140 m
1,140 m
A grueling but worthy ascent (or descent) of the Sandia Crest.
Difficult
Private
Copper Canyon
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Copper Canyon

18.6 km
1,162 m
1,161 m
A punishing, steady climb to the South Baldy summit, rewarded with an exhilarating descent.
Difficult
Private
Mesa Trail Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Mesa Trail Loop

3 - 4 hrs
13.3 km
591 m
591 m
A trek through picturesque rock formations, leading to a panoramic overlook.
Difficult
Private
South Baldy
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

South Baldy

18.6 km
1,158 m
1,158 m
A hidden gem located in the heart of the Magdalena Mountains.
Difficult
Private
Malpais Nature Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Malpais Nature Trail

0 - 1 hrs
1.6 km
21 m
21 m
An interpretive boardwalk hike through an field of ancient lava flow.
Easy
Private
Tortugas Mountain Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Tortugas Mountain Loop

6.2 km
119 m
119 m
A classic run around Tortugas Mountain with expansive views and classic desert scenery.
Moderate
Private
Backcountry Camping Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Backcountry Camping Trail

0 - 1 hrs
2.7 km
21 m
21 m
A quiet 2-mile loop with numerous opportunities to pitch a tent under the stars.
Moderate
Private
Interdune Boardwalk

Interdune Boardwalk

0.6 km
2 m
2 m
A fully-accessible and pet-friendly short hike highlighting "the science, geology, plants, and animals that make White Sands an unequaled natural wonder."
Easy
Private
Walnut Canyon Nature Trail

Walnut Canyon Nature Trail

0 - 1 hrs
0.2 km
1 m
1 m
A short roadside hike with interpretive signs highlighting native peoples and their uses for desert plants.
Easy
Private
Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail

Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail

0 - 1 hrs
1.3 km
18 m
18 m
A short interpretative trail near the visitor center that highlights local flora and fauna.
Easy
Private
Franklin Mountains Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Franklin Mountains Loop

36.8 km
1,111 m
1,111 m
An epic run tour of the Franklin Moutains utilizing Mundys Gap and the Northern Pass to bridge the east and west side of the mountain.
Difficult
Private
Sotol Forest Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Sotol Forest Loop

18.3 km
343 m
343 m
A stunning all-mountain tour of the eastern side of the Franklins.
Moderate
Private
Aztec Cave Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Aztec Cave Trail

0 - 1 hrs
1.8 km
124 m
124 m
A fun, family-friendly hike to a natural cave carved into the western slopes the Franklin Mountains.
Moderate
Private